Atwaters Bakery Cupcakes (Finally!)

We know it’s been awhile since we’ve shared a review (and believe me, we have plenty to share!), but we’ve know for a long time that Atwaters carried cupcakes, and so after finally trying a couple flavors just last night, we didn’t want to waste any more time reviewing them.

Atwaters is a Baltimore staple that is known for their delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches along with a variety of baked goods, homemade ice cream, coffee and more.

After a quick stop at the Atwaters in Belvedere Square for dinner (which was wonderful), I decided to bring cupcakes home with me for desert, while my husband chose the amazing chocolate pudding ice cream. There were only two flavors left in the display case, so I got one of each: Guinness Chocolate Stout and Coconut.

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The cake on both cupcakes was very dense and crumbly. The coconut cake was still moist and very flavorful, but the chocolate stout cake was a little on the dry side and the flavor was just okay to me. However, combined with the chocolate frosting, the stout cake worked very well. Atwaters’ chocolate frosting actually reminded me of their chocolate pudding ice cream, and is the perfect level of richness without being overly sweet. In the end, I preferred the frosting on the chocolate stout cupcake, but the cake on the coconut cupcake was delicious.

I would like to go to Atwaters more (their food really is quite good), and I wouldn’t shy away from trying new cupcake flavors, but their ice cream is so good, that I might end up getting that for dessert instead.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, Maryland)

 

 

On the Road: The Barbecue Exchange – Gordonsville, VA

BBQExchange

I know what you are thinking. “Jenn, we know that you have to eat something other than cupcakes, but this IS a cupcake blog…” And you’re right. I try to find cupcakes every time I’m out of town, and my anniversary trip was no different. My husband and I, along with the toddler, headed to Gordonsville, VA to spend a few days in the Shenandoah Valley. I Googled. I Foursquared. I scrutinized every shopping center we passed. I was beginning to think I would fail you all. And then my husband and I stepped into The Barbecue Exchange, a highly recommended food stop that he was aching to try.

It was like the clouds parted, and the light shone down on the counter display.

BBQExchange_Display

Here, in the middle of Virginia wine country at a BBQ joint, was a creative and generous selection of homemade cupcakes. I have a tendency to over-do it, so Dan and I decided to just pick two and if they were good we’d come back for more. We went with the Key Lime (we honeymooned in Belize, so Key Lime is like “our” flavor) and the chocolate coconut. Looking back at the selection I’m not sure why we choose that one. But we did.

BBQExchange_CupcakePair

I didn’t expect much in the way of packaging. This was a BBQ spot after all. But the cupcakes actually held up well in the bowl-shaped take-out container.

Now here’s the catch…I was sick during this trip. Total head cold where I couldn’t breath, couldn’t hear, and worst of all…couldn’t taste! So, my personal critique is limited to textures and we’ll have to trust Dan’s taste critiques.

Chocolate Coconut
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My review was also jeopardized because we weren’t able to eat these the day we bought them (blaming the head cold again…just not feelin’ sweets so we ended up taking them home instead of instantly indulging). I think the chocolate cake in this cupcake probably would have been more moist if the cupcakes hadn’t sat a day. However, the frosting had a smooth and buttery texture. Dan said the coconut flavor was in good balance and he liked the density of the chocolate cake.

Key Lime
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First I just want to say, how cute is the little cake topper? This technique isn’t something you see done frequently. I felt like the cake could have been more moist, like with the chocolate cake, but Dan disagreed. I was pleased that I could actually could pick up on the key lime flavor. There were even bits of lime zest in the frosting. The frosting wasn’t as buttery as the Chocolate Coconut cupcake’s frosting and was sweeter with a more whipped, but still sugary quality.

Looking back I wish we’d selected more flavors, but Dan is desperate to go back so I’m sure we’ll find an excuse to pass through Gordonsville again. If you are in the Shenandoah Valley area, The Barbecue Exchange is a great place to stop in for lunch before heading out for some wine tasting (or whatever else you do in that part of VA). Along with a big selection of meat, they also have a wide selection of homemade pickles, breads, and of course BBQ sauces. After following their Facebook page, it looks like they have cupcakes regularly and they even customize the menu for holidays, recently offering St. Patrick’s Day themed flavors. As it turns out BBQ and cupcakes make a great pair (when you aren’t sick)!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Stay Sweet Cupcakery | Lewisburg, PA

Crisp air, leaves changing, pumpkin spice everything… fall is officially here and that means GIRLS WEEKEND! Crusaders Jenn, Elisa, and I always look forward to our annual getaway with our closest girl friends. It started in tents, but has since progressed to cabins fully loaded with bathrooms, beds, and TVs—basically it’s not rugged at all. But that’s okay with us because we are there for serious girl time, tents or no tents.

This year, our 6th anniversary of gathering together, we decided to head to Corning, NY. Year after year we have spotted billboards advertising various exhibits at the Corning Museum of Glass, and finally we made it our destination spot. You may remember that last summer Elisa and I stumbled across Walker Cake Co. during a brief stop in Corning, but after doing some research I couldn’t find any new spots that would guarantee cupcakes. So, on our way to Corning, we stopped in Lewisburg, PA, home of Stay Sweet Cupcakery. Stay Sweet has been on my radar for quite some time, but stopping there never seemed to work out, until now.

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When we visited Stay Sweet Cupcakery we decided to grab our cupcakes to go because we already stopped for about two hours in Sellinsgrove, PA (if you are ever passing through Sellinsgrove get raw oysters from BJ’s Steak House and a coffee at The Kind Cafe). Stay Sweet is an adorable little shop, with an inviting front porch and a small “general store” like atmosphere inside. Already behind schedule, we quickly chose six cupcakes (five different flavors) and were back on the road in a matter of minutes.

After an evening spent around a campfire with lots of seasonal beer, appetizers, baked ziti, red wine, and S’mores, we didn’t have the room in our bellies for cupcakes the night we arrived. The next day we spent time at the Corning Museum of Glass, making wind-chimes, glass sculptures, wandering the enormous gift shop, and trying to escape the rain (I was so relieved we weren’t in tents that weekend…). After dinner back at the cabin, we dove into the cupcakes while playing Cards Against Humanity (which is a hilarious game, thanks for bringing it Beth Lacey!).

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(Our Cupcake Loot: Caramel Latte, Heath Bar, Salted Caramel, Pineapple Coconut, and Peanut Butter Pie)

NOTE: Normally we like to try at least one cupcake right away, to really get the best feel for the freshness of the cake and frosting. But since we were sharing these with a group of girls and a cabin stocked with more food than we could eat, we didn’t try them until the following evening. They also ended staying in the box because we didn’t have the proper air-tight storage. I truly think this effected the moistness of the cake on all the cupcakes we tried, so we don’t want to fault Stay Sweet for that.

Caramel Latte

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Elisa and I were both really excited about this cupcake. So much so, that we ordered two of them as part of our half dozen. The coffee flavor was super present, almost too much though because it over-powered the caramel. Since I love coffee, this didn’t totally bother me, but the coffee grinds in the frosting did. I don’t mind a little bit here and there for texture, but it was a bit of an overkill, even for me.

Heath Bar

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Sadly, while this cupcake had a lot of excitement, it really wasn’t anything special. The Heath Bar flavor was missing so it ended up tasting more like a basic vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting.

Salted Caramel

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I believe this flavor was voted one of the favorite flavors at the shop, so we had to get it and,with its great caramel flavor, it didn’t let us down. Some thought there could be more saltiness, but others thought it was just right.

Pineapple Coconut

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This may seem like a strange flavor for the fall, but Jenn said she wanted something “light and citrusy” so this is what we selected for her, and we are so glad we did! The filling in the middle seemed to keep this cupcake more moist than some of the others. There was a nice balance of coconut and pineapple flavor with buttery cake and smooth frosting. Definitely one of the favorites of the night!

Peanut Butter Pie

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I think we were all excited about this cupcake and it lived up to our expectations. The peanut butter flavor was fully there and, like the Pineapple Coconut cupcake, the delicious peanut butter filling made this one of the more moist cupcakes of the evening. So glad we selected this one.

We love crusading and we love our girls, so sharing cupcakes with them and hearing their thoughts is always fun for us. It was even better that it was on a weekend getaway with lots of food, drinks, and much needed catching up. Can’t wait until next year!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

A Yummy Path to Cupcake BLVD in Crofton, MD

Cupcake BLVD in Crofton, Maryland has been written about in local papers, has scores of local patrons, and almost 2000 Facebook fans. I’ve passed by the shop quite a few times, driving up Rt. 3 after visiting my Mom in Charles County. Alas, every time I passed by it was later in the evening and they were already closed. I knew I had to get there and review the cupcakes, but my timing was always off.

While Crusader Stacy organized an interview with the owner, Angelette, I picked up cupcakes on Saturday (luckily they put the cupcakes aside in the morning, because when I went to pick them up, they only had two cupcakes left!). I was excited to try their cupcakes, and especially excited to help them celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. The special for the day was Mojadito (almond amaretto) and the two cupcakes they had left were Maple Bacon, which was not on my half-dozen order, so I added that cupcake to the lot. After a tour through the shop, including the back bakery area and party room, meeting the owners son and some friends, I took my cupcakes to share with some friends and family. With 7 cupcakes to try, I knew I couldn’t eat them alone, and was glad to share them with my boyfriend Mike, his Dad, Stepmom, and brothers. Here’s what we thought:

Maple Bacon
BLVD-MapleBacon

We all know I love bacon, and I sure was lucky they had two of these cupcakes left so I could add it to my order! The cake alone wasn’t too sweet or flavorful, but the frosting was truly amazing. Very smooth and buttery, this frosting was super maple flavored and the crunchy bacon on top added a great texture.

Dulce de Leche
BLVD-DolcedeLeche

Caramel filling was the perfect addition to this cupcake. The frosting followed the buttery flavor and consistency that I would find on all BLVD cupcakes, with a moist semi-sweet cake. Not too sweet and not too boring, this cupcake achieved the perfect balance between cake and frosting.

Nutella
BLVD-Nutella

This Nutella filled cupcake had a lightly flavored and airy vanilla cake with smooth chocolate frosting. Like the other cupcakes, this one was just sweet enough, and the chocolate shavings on top added texture and melted in your mouth!

Cinnamon French Toast
BLVD-CFT

While the other flavors were good, this cupcake really stood out of the bunch. It was amazing how this cupcake tasted exactly like french toast! You could really taste both the syrup and butter flavors in the frosting and the cake had a great light toasty flavor. I could have eaten about ten of these cupcakes, it was that good.

Milky Way
BLVD-MilkyWay

With part of the namesake chocolate bar on top, how could you go wrong?! The filling was like marshmallow fluff and it worked well with the chocolate cake to create the milky way flavor. The frosting was a bit sweeter on this cupcake, but still smooth and buttery.

Mojadito
BLVD-Amaretto

Super amaretto! This cupcake was almost too beautiful to eat. Edible glitter adorned the swirled, sweet frosting atop the moist and airy cake. Of all the cupcakes this was the sweetest. I love almond and amaretto, but because this cupcake was so sweet I couldn’t eat the whole thing—good thing I was sharing.

Coconut
BLVD-Coconut

My favorite of the bunch, I have never had a better coconut cupcake. Moist, lightly flavored cake paired with a frosting packed with coconut flavor made for a very delicious cupcake. If you don’t like the texture of shaved coconut, just pick it off the top, I love the texture, so it was an added bonus for me!

All of the cupcakes from Cupcake BLVD were a treat and most exploded with flavor. My favorites were the special “Mojadito,” Coconut, and French Toast. Angelette was lovely and couldn’t have been nicer—taking time out of her busy day to chat with me and give me a tour. The one thing I wished was for all of the daily flavors to be listed online, because I didn’t know that the Bacon Maple was an option until I got to the shop as it was not on their “daily flavors” list for Saturday. I could have easily called and asked, which I will do next time around so I don’t miss out on the Pumpkin cupcake. I look forward to going back to Cupcake BLVD and trying some more flavors with Crusaders Jenn and Stacy, because they’ve got to try them!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

Cupcakes in Paradise | Bonita Springs, Florida

CupcakesInParadise_Cupcakes

Some of you may remember that last year Crusader Stacy and I had an opprotunity to visit our family in Florida AT THE SAME TIME! This has rarely happened as adults, after having worked together for nearly 5 years. But, with myself no longer employed at the same establishment, we jumped at the chance to take a family vacation together. Well, try as we might, this year we just couldn’t make it happen. Sad as it may have been to not have my twin with me, my little family and I had a wonderful time. I stayed with my Nana, and it was like being home again.

Shortly after arriving, my uncle and cousins were quick to tell me that there was a new cupcake place in Bonita Springs, Florida. As much as I wanted to revisit one of my Florida favorites, Sassy Cakes, I had to try the new place.

CupcakesInParadise_Outside

Cupcakes In Paradise has a cute exterior and fits in perfectly with the colorful shopping center. When I walked into the shop I was surrounded by bright pink walls and modern flat-screen tvs for menus. There wasn’t any staff around, and I eventually had to say, “Hello?” into the direction of the kitchen, but it gave me time to take some pictures.

CupcakesInParadise_Inside

CupcakesInParadise_Display

At the counter there was a modest display of cupcakes with around 10 flavors to choose from. I was curious to try one of each, but I knew that I had to resist. Without my partner in crime, it would only be my husband and myself eating the cupcakes. So I (only) selected four. I was feeling the Florida air and picked Coconut, Key Lime, Funky Monkey, and then threw in a Chocolate Peanut Butter to keep the man happy.

Coconut

CupcakesInParadise_Coconut

The Coconut cupcake was the first one we tried and I’m sad to say it was my least favorite. It was filled, but unfortunately it was filled with the same super-sweet frosting that it was topped with. While the coconut flavor did come through, there was just too much frosting for me. However Dan, who prefers cupcakes on the sweet side, and Leah, who is going through a frosting-only phase, both loved this cupcake.

Key Lime

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You can’t visit a cupcakery in Florida without trying Key Lime. After the Coconut cupcake, I was worried that they’d all be filled with frosting (and I’m a firm believer that a filling should complement the cake and frosting, but should be a different element). To my relief, the cupcake was not filled. The cake was very moist and had a good, real key lime flavor. I’m usually the one scrapping the wrapper of a good cupcake, but Dan beat me to it this time!

Peanut Butter Chocolate

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The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake was a very moist and light chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, and topped with a chocolate peanut butter crumble. The frosting didn’t look like it would have a smooth texture, but in the end it did, and the flavor was bold without overpowering the chocolate.

Funky Monkey

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Saved for last, the Funky Monkey is a banana chocolate cupcake with a marble cake, topped with banana frosting, and then drizzled with chocolate. For me this cupcake was only okay. The banana flavor seemed a little artificial, but the cake was good. I’m not sure I’d order it again with at least two other good options.

Overall, I would go back to Cupcakes in Paradise. I’ve heard their Lemon cupcake has a curd filling, that they make a good Red Velvet, and it was already hard to leave without the French Toast. I’ll have to try those out on my next visit to Florida!

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Blast from the Past: The Cupcakery in Las Vegas

Long before the Cupcake Crusaders had this blog, we had dreams about what it might become. A place to share our love, stories, thoughts, and photos of cupcakes. Almost a year before our blog began, in August of 2010, my husband and I went to Las Vegas as a last hoorah before taking the plunge into parenthood. Prior to leaving, I did plenty of research to find cupcakes while on vacation. After finding out that the hotel-casino we were staying in had a cupcakery IN it, I knew I didn’t need to worry about going through cupcake withdrawal.

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(Dan and I stayed at the Monte Carlo, where The Cupcakery has one of its locations.)

The Cupcakery has three locations in Las Vegas, The Monte Carlo being one of the long standing ones. As luck would have it, we were staying at the Monte Carlo, so before hitting the slots, “The Strip,” and the drinks, I HAD to scope out the cupcakes.

Kir Royale

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It was so hard to select just a few flavors. I didn’t want to get too many, knowing we’d only be in Vegas for a few days and that I’d hopefully be collecting more cupcakes on our explorations. There was one that I did have my mind set on prior to arriving and that was the Kir Royale, a raspberry cake with champagne frosting. Dusted in glitter, this cupcake was made to stand out. They had a couple remaining in their display when we showed up, but my built up excitement was replaced with disappointment after tasting the overly sweet cupcake that was lacking in any hint of bubbly.

Grasshopper

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At the time Dan was still my little cupcaker in training so I helped him select flavors I thought he would like. The Grasshopper was a chocolate cake with mint chocolate frosting. Just like the Kir Royale, we remember it being too sweet for our liking, which was surprising with a cupcake that has a dark ganache frosting. According to The Cupcakery’s website this is one of the original flavors and, “has gotten better by the year.” So it would be worth a second tasting to see if they are right.

Mound of Joy

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We saved the Mound of Joy and Boston Dream cupcakes for breakfast the next day. This cupcake did not skimp on toppings, with a coconut cake, chocolate buttercream frosting, and rolled in shaved almonds and coconut. Luckily it wasn’t as sweet as the cupcakes we indulged in the night before and I remember really liking it.

Boston Dream

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Clearly I haven’t changed much in three years, because if I see a Boston Cream (or Boston Dream, to The Cupcakery) I have to get it. And it’s perfect for breakfast! Just like the Mound of Joy, this cupcake was not overly sweet. It is your standard Boston Cream concoction, with vanilla cake, Bavarian creme filling, and dipped in smooth chocolate ganache. Very tasty.

My husband and I had a lot of fun in Vegas, playing penny and nickel slots (we love the video slot machines), walking around, taking in the lights and sights, window shopping, and helping ourselves to a few cocktails. Cupcakes just made the trip that much sweeter (for me anyway). Although it’s been a few years, according to The Cupcakery’s website these cupcakes are still available (and even look the same) and they are still located in the Monte Carlo. When I get back to Vegas, I wouldn’t hesitate in trying them again since it’s been so long. Although they weren’t my favorite in Sin City, the location is very convenient. The Cupcakery was the first cupcake place we found on this trip but there were others, so look out for more to come!

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(In addition to The Cupcakery, The Monte Carlo also has an ICE BAR. Minus 5 may have been a little pricey, but totally worth the experience!)

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Jenn (Westminster, MD)

Catching Up with Cupcakes in Orlando, FL

There are some people in your life that, no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen them, you can pick up exactly where you left off. These friends are the ones you can always count on to be there for you, even if you may not talk everyday. My friend, Marina, is one of those friends for me. We became friends in high school, but since then she has lived as close as Delaware or as far away as California. None of that matters though, because when we see each other, the days, weeks, months, or even years just seem like seconds.

Not only is Marina a great friend, she also has a serious sweet tooth (she recently became a certified pastry chef), so it makes perfect sense that when I was in Florida, her current home state, we would do a little bit of cupcaking. When it comes to organizing a day of cupcakes, I usually take the lead on deciding which places we will visit and in what order, but after giving Marina a list of possibilities, she narrowed it down and mapped them out. It was so nice to have someone else help with the planning.

We decided that if we paced ourselves we could manage four places: Raphsodic (a vegan bakery), Blue Bird Bake Shop, Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly, and Sweet Designs Kitchen.

After a tasty lunch at Thai Thani we made our way to Raphsodic, our first stop in downtown Orlando. Raphsodic has an eclectic vintage atmosphere which was carried through with their plates and mismatched antique forks. I must confess that I was really apprehensive about going to a vegan bakery after recently having had some bad experiences, but I think it’s important to review all kinds of cupcakes, especially for the vegan cupcake lovers out there. Marina and I proceeded with caution and ordered the Mocha cupcake to split.

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(Vegan Mocha cupcake from Raphsodic)

Expecting the worst, I was actually pleasantly surprised. The cake had a really nice chocolately coffee flavor, and it was moist (yay!). I thought the simple dairy free buttercream went well with the cake, but it was a little too dense for Marina, who prefers a much lighter frosting. Knowing we had three more places to visit, we left without quite satisfying our sweet tooth, but our next stop, Blue Bird Bake Shop, was just a short drive away.

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(Blue Bird Bake Shop)

Like Raphsodic, Blue Bird Bake Shop also had an eclectic selection of mismatched plates (in fact, it’s the largest collection I’ve ever seen) and their decor was a stunning blend of rustic chic. Beautiful blue and brown tones filled the shop and Marina and I couldn’t stop “oohing” and “ahhing” as we ate our cupcakes. This time around we each got our own cupcakes; I choose the Neapolitan and Marina selected the Chocolate Raspberry.

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(Neapolitan and Chocolate Raspberry cupcakes from Blue Bird Bake Shop)

Neapolitan is one of those flavors I’m seeing more and more bakeries offer, and when it’s done right, it’s awesome. This cupcake was no exception. The frosting tasted just like strawberry ice cream and the vanilla and chocolate cake was moist and delicious. Despite feeling that the cake on the Chocolate Raspberry cupcake was a little more dense than Marina normally prefers, she said that overall, “it was really yummy.”

After eating our cupcakes and browsing the t-shirts, coffee products, and uniquely flavored marshmallows, we headed to our next stop, Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly (a two time Cupcake Wars winner).

Sweet! not only sells cupcakes, they also have a huge selection of frozen yogurt and toppings, but Marina and I didn’t let this distract us from our mission. We made our way passed the froyo machines and straight to the cupcakes.

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(Menu from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

Sampling as many different flavors as possible is always fun, and since Sweet! sells primarily minis, that made it an easy task. They had a ton of flavors available and Marina and I spent a lot of time narrowing our choices down to six each. I decided on the Coffee, Peanut Butter and Jelly, Tiramisu, White Chocolate Raspberry, Banana, and Cinnamon. Some of the flavors were just okay and some were great. The big disappointment for me was the Tiramisu.

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(Tiramisu cupcake from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

The first Tiramisu cupcake I ever tried was from Sublime, in Wyomissing, PA, (review here). None have been as good since then, but Sweet!’s didn’t even taste like Tiramisu. Luckily, it was only a mini and I had other flavors to enjoy, like the Coffee and Cinnamon, which were AMAZING. Each packed tons of flavor in such a small size. I could have easily eaten two of each on that visit.

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(Cinnamon and Coffee cupcakes from Sweet! by Good Golly Miss Holly)

After our visit at Sweet!, Marina and I found ourselves entering a cupcake coma, so decided to do a little shopping before making our way to our final stop, Sweet Designs Kitchen. Even with shopping and a 40 minute drive, we were still cupcaked-out when we arrived at Sweet Designs Kitchen. It was the end of the day, and their selection was limited, but the staff was super friendly. We decided to get two cupcakes each, to go.

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(Coconut Key Lime and Orange Creamsicle cupcakes from Sweet Designs Kitchen)

After all the cupcakes we tried that day I realized that I was in Florida and hadn’t yet gotten any citrus flavors. I happily remedied that and got the Coconut Key Lime and Orange Creamsicle cupcakes, while Marina choose the alcohol-free Mocha Lua and Banana’s Foster cupcakes. Unfortunately, Marina didn’t eat hers until a day later and I ended up waiting two days. Both of us felt that the cake was dry, but we really can’t fault Sweet Designs Kitchen for that since we didn’t try them when they were fresh. Even though the cake was dry I thought that the flavors of my cupcake were really fantastic, especially the fillings. The Coconut Key Lime was my favorite and I thought the key lime curd filling blended really well with the coconut frosting. Marina thought that the frostings on her cupcakes were both too heavy and that the cake was a little bland, but agreed that the fillings in her two cupcakes were really great.

It’s no secret that a day filled with cupcakes is guaranteed to be a great day for me, but getting to spend time with a good friend who really enjoys critiquing cupcakes as much as I do is even better. It was also really nice to catch up with Marina in between bites of cake and frosting, especially because she is expecting a little bundle of joy in a few months. Hopefully, Marina will pass along the “sweet tooth gene” to her little one, because when it comes to cupcake adventures, I always like to think “the more, the merrier.”

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

One Sweet Find in Shady Side

Spending time in Pittsburgh with my Nona is one of my favorite things, and spending Christmas with my whole family at Nona’s house is a tradition! This Christmas was no exception and it was wonderful seeing and spending time with all my family. I had the luxury of spending a couple of extra days there after Christmas and decided that I better find some cupcakes to try. (The Crusaders and I have discussed at length how crazy it is that I often visit Pittsburgh, but have never gotten cupcakes while I was there, something they told me had to be remedied.)

After doing a bit of research I decided on Vanilla Pastry Studio. They have been voted Pittsburgh’s Best Cupcakes by WPXI, two years in a row and offer a delightful assortment of treats, including: cookies, brownies, muffins, bread, scones, whoopee pies, and special order cakes.

VPS-StoreSign
(The lovely sign above the entrance)

The shop is located in the Shady Side area of Pittsburgh, an eclectic and fun area where you can find delicious food, thrift shops, and revived old buildings. The store front was easy to find because of the large cupcake sign on the light post out front. (Note: Vanilla Pastry is moving to the Regent Square area in early spring, so if you want to stop by the shop, check out their Facebook page first and make sure they haven’t moved.)

VPS-OutdoorSign
(Clearly cupcakes are sold on this street! Check out the large cupcake sign on the sidewalk and all that snow.)

VPS-StoreInside
(The beautiful display and decor. Not pictured are the booths, cafe tables and comfy arm chairs.)

Once I walked in, I was in love with the decor and excited to pick from all the cupcake flavor options. One of the Sugar Fairies (that’s what they call the staff) greeted me, recommended a couple of cupcake favorites, and boxed up my choices while I walked around to check out the shop. I chose one cupcake to eat in the shop and also took photos of the other flavors I planned on taking home to share with some of my family later that evening. At $25 a dozen, the cupcakes didn’t break the bank. Below are my flavor choices and reviews.

Boozy Eggnog (season special and the cupcake I ate in the shop)
VPS-Eggnog

While Crusader Stacy loves eggnog cupcakes and lattes, I don’t. In fact, the whole idea of eggnog weirds me out a bit, but this cupcake came highly recommend and was divine! The cake was a moist and classic vanilla cake while the frosting was very smooth and not too sweet, with a delicious mix of eggnog spices and alcohol flavors. The crispy toppings were a fantastic additional texture. (Those little gems are hand painted in the shop!) While this is clearly not a cupcake for kids, it is one fine adult cupcake indeed and one of my favorites.

Red Velvet
VPS-RedVelvet

Being dubbed the “Red Velvet Crusader” maybe makes me a particularly tough critic on the subject. The bright red cake made me leery, but the cake was quite moist and I would say it had more of a vanilla flavor than true red velvet flavor. The frosting again was smooth and well balanced with its not too sweet and not too cream cheesy flavor, and the chocolate covered puffed rice topping was also a nice touch of texture. While this was a good cupcake, it wasn’t a great red velvet, so I am not sure I would order this one again.

Coconut
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This coconut cupcake is a vanilla cake and coconut buttercream with sweet coconut shavings on top. The cake was a bit on the dry side, and while the frosting was smooth, this cupcake just didn’t do it for me. I love coconut and am not sure what I was expecting, but after tasting and being wowed by other flavors, this one just fell flat for me. Even thinking about it now makes me shrug my shoulders and say, “Eehh.” Nothing particularly wrong with it, but also nothing particularly exciting either.

Chocolate w/Espresso
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Whoever decided to put chocolate and coffee together is a personal hero of mine. These flavors come together in such great harmony, and this cupcake showcased that. The rich and moist chocolate cake was subtly sweet and paired well with the smooth, buttery, coffee frosting. The chocolate covered espresso bean on top added great crunch and a burst of additional coffee flavor. If you like coffee and chocolate together, I would highly recommend ordering this cupcake.

Lemon
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Sweet and tart in all the right ways. This cupcake had the same vanilla cake as the coconut, but wasn’t as dry. (Who knows why. Maybe one was baked a little longer, or wasn’t fresh from that day, etc.) The lemon buttercream was that smooth consistency I began to count on from Vanilla Pastry and had HUGE lemon flavor. You could actually see the lemon rind in the frosting and because it was paired with the sweet cake the tart and sweet flavors balanced out to just about perfect.

Chocolate w/Peanut Butter
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We Crusaders have eaten a lot of chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes, and I use peanut butter on an almost daily basis, and I loved this cupcake. The chocolate cake was moist and had the perfect, true cocoa flavor. The smooth peanut butter frosting was the perfect peanut flavor and the salted peanuts on top added the perfect extra crunch to this fantastic cupcake. A must order!

While not all the cupcakes from Vanilla Pastry Studio were perfect for me, one thing was always consistent and dependable: the frosting. I don’t know how they do it, but their frosting is perhaps the smoothest frosting I have ever discovered. The flavor in the frosting is undeniably good and if they sold it in tubs I might never make my own frosting ever again. All in all a wonderful experience and one I look forward to having again the next time I am up in Pittsburgh for a visit.

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader, Elisa (Baltimore, MD)

Sometimes You Just Need a Bite

Pint-sized cupcakes are already hard to turn away, so when you take an already small treat and make it even smaller it’s next to impossible to say “no!” Today, we are sharing a collection of small bite treats we’ve sampled, from Smith Island Cake Company’s miniscule “cake-its” to a new Starbucks cake-pop flavor.

Smith Island Cake-Its

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While in the bakery section of the Giant grocery store, I spotted a wide variety of Smith Island Cake treats. I’ve never actually tried Smith Island Cake (you don’t have to say it… I know… it’s practically a sin among Maryland-based cake lovers), so was excited to see such an assortment. They had mini cakes (which I might have to get one day), slices of their famous layered cake, cake pops, and these teeny tiny little cake bites, which they call “Cake-Its.” I haven’t seen anything like them before, so snatched them up without a second thought. The flavors included were: Original (yellow cake/chocolate icing), Red Velvet (red velvet cake/cream cheese icing), and Coconut (white cake/coconut buttercream). Even though Crusader’s Elisa’s review of their cupcakes didn’t have tons of positive things to say, she’s always said great things about their layered cake, so I was hopeful that these treats would be moist and delightful, and lucky for me, they were. I didn’t really have a favorite because each time I ate a new flavor, I would decide it was the best. Much smaller than a typical cake pop or cake truffle, each was like a little explosion of flavor. The Red Velvet had a good cocoa flavor, the Classic had a rich deep dark chocolate flavor from their signature frosting, and I thought coconut was perfect for any coconut lover.

Godiva Cake Truffles

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Being a long-time Godiva lover (let’s face it, who isn’t?), I couldn’t wait to try their new line of cake truffles, which were created with the cake master himself, Chef Duff from Charm City Cakes. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was able to pick up three flavors on my visit: Birthday Cake, Butterscotch Walnut Brownie, and Pineapple Hummingbird. To my (slight) disappointment, there was no cake involved, but these still had the wonderful creaminess and richness you would expect from a Godiva truffle. The Birthday Cake had a white (pink) chocolate outer layer, then a milk chocolate layer, and a “funfetti cake” center. This didn’t really have the “cake batter” like flavor I was hoping for and, for the most part, just tasted like a white and milk chocolate truffle. The Butterscotch Walnut Brownie ended up being my favorite, and was reminiscent of “brownie batter” with all the other flavors being very present as well. The final truffle, Pineapple Hummingbird, also had a good mixture of flavors, but was still missing that cake-like quality. If you’ve ever had a cake batter ice cream flavor, you know what I’m talking about. I still love Godiva, but I think I’ll be sticking to my favorite, the dark chocolate raspberry truffle, on future visits.

Hamilton Bakery Carrot Cake Cake Truffle

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With Hamilton Bakery located a hop, skip, and jump from my front door, it’s a shame that their cupcakes don’t rank higher on my list. Despite that, their other baked goods and friendly customer service always have me stopping in for something. During a breakfast visit for a scone and a cup of Zeke’s I spotted this Carrot Cake cake truffle. It was the first time I had seen cake truffles at Hamilton Bakery, so I quickly added that to my order. The texture was perfect: not too dry and not too mushy. The spicy carrot cake flavor was also perfect and the thin coating of white chocolate didn’t overpower this bite-sized treat.

Starbucks Chocolate Raspberry Cake Pop

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We are no strangers to Starbucks‘ cake pops. From the classic Birthday Cake to the seasonal Peppermint Brownie (also pictured above) we grab these sweet additions to our coffee break when a caffeine high isn’t enough. Recently we spotted a flavor we hadn’t seen before: Chocolate Raspberry. Crusader Jenn said this cake pop was good with rich moist chocolate cake and raspberry flavor. Although the raspberry tasted a bit artificial.

How do you feel about cake pops, truffles, and other similar items? Do you think there is room in the dessert world for them and cupcakes, or will cupcakes always outshine these tiny treats?

– Posted by Cupcake Crusader Stacy (Baltimore, MD)

Guest Review | Sugar Bakeshop | Charleston, South Carolina

We are delighted to have our first guest review by avid cupcake lover, Jessica, of Poundcake Press. Last January Jessica joined us on a cupcake tasting at Flavor Cupcakery and was even kind enough to donate her adorable cupcake thank you cards to one of our giveaways. Today we are sharing her recent visit to Sugar Bakeshop located in Charleston, South Carolina. She’s awesome and we hope to share more of her cupcake adventures with you all. Thanks Jessica!

Charleston, South Carolina is one of my favorite places to visit. I love the southern hospitality, charm and the amazing food! On a recent visit with my husband and my parents, we decided to check out a bakery that I had heard great things about. Sugar Bakeshop sells cakes, pies, tarts, cookies and cupcakes (as well as a few other sweet treats). The bakery is a little out of the way from the historic downtown area, and parking is a little tricky, but don’t let that deter you. The building itself is adorable and inside you find the most inviting display of goodies.

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When you walk through the doors of the quaint shop, you are faced with a charming display of vintage cake stands and jars containing every sweet treat you can imagine – including some good old southern sweet tea. Happiness! A super friendly employee greeted us right away and went over all of the flavors they had on display that day.

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My mom and I picked out a half dozen cupcakes to go and we were on our way. My only regret was not grabbing a sweet tea and chocolate chip cookie for the ride!

SugarBakeshop3[Please note that with the exception of the coconut cupcake, all of the cupcakes were a day old when we tried them. We kept them in the fridge overnight and that could have affected the moistness of the cake. Like I said, Charleston is full of amazing food, and we were too stuffed from dinner to eat the cupcakes that night. Shame on us! Lesson learned: you should always leave room for dessert.]

Peanut Butter & Jelly

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The peanut butter and jelly cupcake is a must-have for a PB&J junkie like my husband. The peanut butter icing was very rich and creamy. According to my husband, the white cake was perfect because it reminded him of eating a PB&J sandwich on white bread. Our only complaint with this one was that, even with the delicious strawberry jelly inside, the white cake was very dry.

Lime

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The lime cupcake was really pretty with sugar crystals and light green buttercream icing. Both the cake and the icing were vanilla, so the lime filling is what really made this cupcake. It was super tangy and refreshing.

Caramel

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The caramel cupcake was the one that I was most excited about and it did not disappoint. The icing was thick and fudgy – I loved it! The vanilla cake was moist and light and I thought it was a perfect match for the candy-like topping.

Coconut

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The coconut cupcake reminds me of a snowball. I didn’t get a chance to try this one but my parents described it as heavenly. The dense vanilla cake was moist and loaded with shredded coconut on top. The vanilla buttercream icing was also delicious, and not too sugary sweet, which was good because it was piled high!

Chocolate

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This cupcake was a dream for a chocoholic like me. The cake had a dark chocolate flavor and was rich and moist. The thick, fudgy icing was simply delicious. I drank a tall glass of milk with this one and I was in heaven.

Lemon

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My husband and I are huge fans of lemon cupcakes. After sampling quite a few rich desserts, a citrus-flavored cupcake is usually a real treat. The lemon cupcake from Sugar was similar to the lime cupcake. The vanilla cake contained a tart lemon curd filling and was topped with vanilla buttercream icing. While there wasn’t anything wrong with the subtle flavors of this cupcake, I would have liked it more if the lemon was a little more prominent.

Overall, my family and I were pleased with everything we tasted from Sugar Bakeshop. We’ll be sure to stop in the next time we’re in Charleston.  With all of the different desserts they offer, there is so much more we still have to try!

– Review by Guest Crusader, Jessica of Poundcake Press (Baltimore, MD). To find out more about Poundcake Press, visit their Esty Shop or follow them on Facebook.